The more basketball I watch, the more I have grown in my appreciation for what a good broadcast team brings to the table. It’s the difference between being educated in the game you’re watching or flipping on one of my Spotify playlists.
And as a viewing audience, we are spoiled. We’ve been blessed with some true legends (a term that is overused but in this case I wholeheartedly believe applies). We’ve heard, and quite maybe literally felt, spit that somehow transfers its way from the arena to our living room, the pure unadulterated enthusiasm of Dick Vitale. (Who knows, I saw the Gene Wilder Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory scene with Mike Teavee. I’d be lying to your face if my understanding of high-def cable has evolved much beyond that.) Sure, he’s devolved a bit into a sputtering crazy man, but in his heyday that man made you feel a part of rivalries playing themselves out miles away from your couch.
We’ve heard the poetic Bill Raftery laud a “Little Lingerie on the Deck” when a Big East guard dives after a loose ball. We’ve heard Bill Walton, well, be unapologetically Bill Walton on air. We’ve heard Jay Bilas edify us on the matchups of the week. I feel smarter after listening to Bilas point out nuances of a game. And not just basketball smarter. Like genuinely smarter.
But for all the good that these giants of the broadcast booth do for the game, it seems as if when the competition heats up in the greatest championship format known to sports, we see our analysts devolve into the comically painful practice of the March cliché. Less and less am I hearing a commentator break down a Joel Berry late game tendency or the importance of Josh Hart’s senior leadership. Which, hey, Young Thug’s Jeffery is arguably album of the year depending on who you ask. But either way, it’s just not the same.
Maybe you’ve never noticed these. Maybe the volume’s been down really low on your TV. Or you’re busy audibly wailing as none of your genius 12-5 upsets pan out. Or you’re arguing with your friends about which of the guards of Mount Saint Mary’s you’d rather have with the ball at the end of the game. Or maybe you’re just a psychopath and watch games in silence. Hey, I’m not here to judge.
But you’re welcome, once you’ve heard these, you’ll never stop hearing these. Why? Because as Turner Sports and CBS buckle down for a three week stretch of nearly non-stop basketball coverage, they sometimes have to dig deep into their ranks of basketball analysts to fill sets during these marathon days, sometimes the knowledge of the players and teams can be lacking. No crash course exists that’ll catch these guys up with the seasons of all 72 teams. And so, let the cliché’s commence, the ultimate shortcut for these guys to still sound authoritative while in reality saying nothing worthwhile.
You’re nitpicking, you may say. After all, it’s the greatest time of the sporting year. Maybe it’s the 20 degree air that’s being blasted into my face, I don’t know. But I’m not wrong. And when you grow up in a strongly opinionated Italian extended family like I have, isn’t that really all that matters anyway?
So here’s a few to keep an ear out for. Feel free to grab a glass and adapt this into a dangerously effective drinking game if that’s what floats your boat. But be assured that you will not be able to unhear these as we go dancing through the next three weeks of play. You’re very welcome.
“The Look”: This’ll make an appearance in the first round of play. It’ll be focused at a double-digit seeded team. Likely a mid-to-low major. It’ll be after said team makes a strong early run, knocking the favorite back on its heels. A backbreaking three forces a timeout. Then, cue: “You know, these guys just have the look of a team that could make a run in the tournament.” We’ve all been in class or a job interview where we’ve been asked a question that just stumped us. We rack our brains and tread water for an answer, and when this fails we resort to ambiguity in all its finery. And when the color guy can’t come up with anything from the 3 minute YouTube mixtape he’s seen of the North Carolina Central Eagles, poof: they’ve got that look.
“Make shots”: This one is a personal favorite when it comes to enlightening commentary. They’ve just got to make shots. Down the stretch, the team that makes shots will come away with this one. Please, please, please let me hear an interview where a player admits, “Yeah, you know coach just told us to hold off from making our shots.” “We really thought that a missed shot was our best offense in that situation.” You’ll hear this at end of games when the analyst has fully run out of material to break down a set on the offensive end. He has no more relevant stats in front of him to bring up about player X’s production in the last five minutes of the game. He has been talking for the last 4 hours. The hotdog that’s being eaten by the fan directly behind him is tormenting his starved mind. He’s ready for this one to be done.
“A (Insert Prolific Coach Here)- coached team”: This one is perfect for the analyst who does college basketball on a very part time basis. In fairness, college fandom is a difficult game. It’s so dynamic by nature, with the allure of the NBA and one-and-done culture ending any semblance of continuity on an elite team from year to year. But you know what doesn’t change in these storied, blue-blood programs? The coach. And it is in these scenerios where the importance of the coach is magnified tenfold. Sure, the experience is undoubtedly a calming influence on a young team. He likely exudes a confidence that is tangible in the locker pre-game. And his out-of-bounds sets may be marginally better than his counterpart on the opposing sideline. But you wouldn’t know that listening to broadcast. A Miles Bridges two-handed pin block is no longer a fantastic individual athletic play. Nope. It’s just one of the fruits of a Tom Izzo coached team. Izzo really stresses defense, you know. Listen up when freshman-laden teams (see: Duke, Kentucky, etc.) take the floor, and be prepared to be a little extra buzzed in these matchups.
“Pace”: Whether a team wants to run and gun or ground and pound, the pace will be a definite focal point of your broadcast. A team may want to get out in transition, or may be focused on their defense in such a setting. A player may have great pace. He’s never rushed. He’s crafty, he’s smooth, he’s a warm knife slicing through a pad of soft butter. Don’t you dare fail to control the pace. How else will your win be explained in coach-speak when we head back to the studio?
“Guard play”: A championship team generally has excellent balance. They defend, they’ve got a shooter or two, they’ve got an inside scoring presence, a rim protector. But in March, these roles fade quietly to the background. You see, in March, it’s all about guard play. To make a run, you need excellent guard play. What really differentiates a team that can close out it’s opponent is guard play. What gives a team it’s savvy, it’s smarts, its clutch factor? What’s the “straw that stirs the drink”? You guessed it: guard play. Guard play. That’ll be the difference between your team faltering in the first round or making a deep push. It may also be the difference between coherency or not in this game of yours.
“Fundamentals”: It’s truly fascinating to me how suddenly in March, coaches once again put the focus on fundamentals. Everyone stresses the fundamentals. Defensive positioning. Ball movement. Offensive discipline. Imagine if these were a focal point all year. Bob Knight’s ’76 Indiana team might not be so special after all.
“Cinderella Puns”: I confess, I’m a lover of a good pun. And a bad pun. Generally, any pun. And so I have mixed feelings pointing out this one, but when an 11 seed makes it to the Sweet 16, brace yourself because these will be out in bulk. When the final buzzer signals their victory, you’ll be delighted to hear that the glass slipper….FITS! This undoubtedly scrappy bunch is now the belle of the ball. But alas, they’ll come upon a bad matchup. The talent gap might just be too overwhelming. And when this day comes, alas, the clock has struck midnight for this Cinderella story. Points for preparation, but not for creativity. See also: first round David and Goliath references. You’ll feel like you’re being assaulted by a slingshot-heaved rock yourself.
“Absolutely incoherent statements”: “Take all you want, and eat all you take. It’s a full menu buffet for the Wildcats” – Clark Kellogg. In a real NCAA tournament game. Are you sure Clark hasn’t been imbibing with you?
Cheers to another wonderful tournament.